Commentary
9/11/2013
06:54 PM
Mike Capone
Mike Capone
Commentary

ADP's Mobile Application Plan: Small Is Beautiful

How did we build an app that employees actually want to use? Go minimal, be agile and mind the APIs.



If I can't understand it within the first two minutes, I'll probably never use it again. Surely, many of you share this sentiment when it comes to any given mobile application. The core objective, then, when developing a mobile app for business: Squash any potential for confusion. Consumers want simplicity when it comes to their mobile applications, and the same holds true for business users.

If you haven't looked lately, let me tell you that the sheer number of apps available to help workers view information and complete tasks on the run is astounding. What my team and I learned when working on APD's Mobile Solutions app, which just hit the 1.25-million-user mark, is that what separates good applications from the rest is the ability to minimize confusion while delivering the information that users value most. In our line of work, it was and continues to be about enabling self-service and delivering high-impact HR information.

Leading the development of ADP's Mobile Solutions app was simultaneously a career highlight and a major challenge. For some context, ADP pays one in six U.S. workers and is at its core a SaaS-driven company; we serve 14 million users on our software-as-a-service platforms. That equates to a tremendous amount of data coming from hundreds of sources. Our challenge: to interconnect it all and funnel it to one mobile interface. Here are three lessons learned.

Lesson No. 1: If the ultimate goal is ensuring ease of use, taking a minimalist approach to creating the mobile app needs to be the No. 1 priority for every team member involved. Users will judge you not on how many features and graphics you pack in, but on how quickly they can learn to use and rely on the app. Instilling that ethos in the development team helped lay the groundwork to tackle the challenge of connecting many data sources and delivering everything through one mobile interface. While the inner workings and lexicon about the back ends of Web services are usually best kept behind the scenes, it's important to tackle and connect those dots before rolling out your app -- don't leave it up to end users. And be mindful if you have different constituencies. For ADP, app users work in many sizes and types of businesses, and all need different information. Some are just looking for access to their paychecks, some want benefits info, others are aiming to enter their hours for the day. Regardless of what they want to do, don't require users to go through extra hurdles to access functions or to open up additional mobile applications.

Lesson No. 2: Foster collaboration among the product teams' data architects to ensure agile API development. Providing mobile access to many Web services-based systems required us to break down communication barriers and generate a minimum set of APIs that all our product teams' data architects could leverage. With any mobile application, boiling the ocean and satisfying everyone on every product team is just not possible. At the very beginning of this process, we said the goal was to ensure the application's ease of use. That would not have been possible had all our data architects and product teams worked in silos to create their own individual APIs.

Lesson No. 3: Create a pathway for iterative API updating and innovation. The adage "less is more" is the best way to characterize the benefits from having a set of agreed-upon APIs. Those, combined with streamlining communication among data architects, are the core ingredients needed to create an innovative mobile application, improve the end user experience, and meet the businesses' and employees' needs. If a business evolves from being a small operation with several employees to a midsize organization with hundreds requiring more mobile features and functionality, our architects can iterate and enhance the original APIs to bring those features on board and expand them to new devices.

As you apply more innovations to the mobile application, don't lose sight of the core objective -- ensuring the application's ease of use. For example, earlier this year, we added W-2 functionality to the application, enabling users to download their W-2s and tax forms right from their mobile devices. Again, our key objective was making the download process as simple as possible.

Today, adoption of the ADP Mobile Solutions app continues to grow, and I think that's because we made simplicity a paramount objective.

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